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Understanding Depression

The current definition of depression can be described as persistent feelings of deep sadness and hopelessness. This can be very vague and depending on what else is happening for you at any given time, entirely appropriate. It is not appropriate however, for these feelings to be long lasting and interfering with everyday life. Most tools to help discover whether there is depression also involve identifying whether or not you enjoy things you previously did, feeling overwhelmed, inability to concentrate and whether you experience emotional numbness. There can also be physical symptoms of depression which can include digestive problems, sleep changes, and chronic pain. You can find more information here and here. If you, or someone you know experience these feelings and any negative thoughts associated with them for more that 2 weeks they should be discussed with your GP.

We can all be sad sometimes and that feeling may come around the loss of someone or something, change in any area of your life (work, relationships) or times or high stress. These feelings are founded in that there is a direct link to such an event and your emotional well-being. When these feeling don't go away or get worse or if you can not identify a specific event linking to your lower mood then you may be experiencing depression. It does not mean that there is something wrong with you or that you have failed in any way. There are different types of depression and some may require further intervention with the possibility of medication if necessary.

In modern Western society there is a big emphasis on doing things by ourselves and struggling as a marker for success. The more stressed, tired and unhappy we are the more successful we must be. This is counter-intuitive to how humans function on a biological level. We are social creatures who need connection and support to flourish. When someone experiences depression it is quite common for them to withdraw from society, disconnect and remove themselves for many reasons. This is guaranteed to make the individual suffer more. Isolation is so detrimental to positive well-being but the temporary relief that it brings can feel like the greatest gift to someone experiencing depression. Thoughts of being a burden, annoying, a failure, pathetic and any other negative criticism you want to add are very common so it makes sense that removing ones self from others to avoid these types of judgements seems logical, however, these thoughts are just that, thoughts.

A lot of the time these actions are related directly to the stigma that mental illness has in society. "just go for a walk", "just eat some fruit and vegetables", "lighten up", "they are just looking for attention""aren't they over that yet?". I have heard these comments and many more so many times in my life as a counsellor and human. They frustrate and give me hope at the same time. Hope that these conversations are now happening as they were a taboo subject not that long ago and frustrating because its not that simple. Judging someone for their thought process is not helpful at all. I have recently realised that when there are negative thoughts moving in, a shame storm, or depression, instead of saying "think of something happy" try saying "I hear you. This sounds really hard right now and that's okay. I am here and we will get through this." The recognition of feelings and the space to be able to feel what you feel without judgement is so powerful and it gives permission for the person to be human. Instead of adding another thing to their list of failures (even though it is not a failure it feels that way) accepting them as they are, warts and all, its the greatest gift. If you don't know what to say then say exactly that. It is hard to experience and hard to witness but with connection and acceptance we can boost people up to be the best version of themselves, un-apologetically. There is great suffering in this world and only acknowledging the positives does a disservice to a wholehearted life lived.

There are many websites available now where you can do a self test for depression and these can be very beneficial. Such sites as the Black Dog Institute and BeyondBlue have a wealth of information and tools available that can identify any areas which may be of concern for yourself or someone you know. If you have concerns about any thought, felling's or experiences you have please discuss with your GP and if you feel necessary request to see someone to explore them more.

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